Contact: Debra Dennis;
For immediate release — May 5, 2022
(DALLAS) — Amber Johnson knows what it means to push through and carry on. An Army veteran, she is among the thousands of Dallas College graduates who, with the support of faculty and staff, will receive their degrees next week.
A member of the honor society at Eastfield Campus, Johnson was unsure of where she wanted to launch her career. She thought of nursing but demurred. She found her voice when she studied social work, a field of study she has come to love because of its overall effort to enhance well-being. Johnson credits Dallas College faculty members and counselors with the TRIO program for listening to her story and helping her to make the right choice. She has coped with trauma and believes her experience will help others.
Ultimately, Johnson’s experience has led her to the arena stage of Dallas College’s commencement ceremonies, where she is among seven speakers who will address their classmates during this year’s graduation. She will be one of two speakers to address the graduating class at 3 p.m. on May 14. Dallas College graduation takes place over three days, May 12 to May 14, at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
For Johnson, the military was long a part of her life. Now she wants to start anew and felt comfortable changing course. “You just have to get started, and it’s really about how you finish,” she said. “I knew I wanted to help others,” said Johnson, the mother of a 16-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. She is a survivor of physical trauma she endured during her time in the military but said she did not want that to define her. She discovered she was so much more than her uniform.
“I was looking for direction, and Eastfield gave me the direction I needed,” Johnson said. “I had stuffed down things so far that it was good to come to terms with what I had gone through. I was not going to let that experience reduce me.”
Johnson wants to be an example to others in need of emotional support by launching conversations about disorders attributed to trauma. She plans to transfer to the University of Texas at Arlington and pursue an undergraduate degree in social work.
Dallas College, with its seven campuses, holds an annual commencement ceremony each May to honor the previous Fall’s graduates as well as Spring graduates. This year, there are five in-person commencement ceremonies to mark the occasion. This group of graduates are on track to become nurses, social workers, business leaders, health professionals and engineers. And, by enrolling in Dallas College, many sidestepped the steep financial burden that follows so many college graduates.
“Graduation is one of those monumental, life-affirming moments that allows us to truly recognize the tenacity of our students,” said Dr. Justin Lonon, Dallas College chancellor. “From economic challenges to global health concerns, the class of 2022 has experienced enough adversity to cause anyone to lose sight of their dreams, but they did not. I am thrilled to witness the many ways they will work to transform communities in Dallas and others around the world, especially at a time when our workforce and economy need them most.”
The ceremonies will also recognize the support of Dallas College faculty and staff members who steered students to graduation and pushed them to transfer to other colleges or join the workforce. Students who have met the criteria will graduate at one of the following commencement ceremonies:
- Thursday, May 12, 6 p.m. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.
- Friday, May 13, 1 p.m. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.
- Friday, May 13, 6 p.m. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.
- Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.
- Saturday, May 14, 3 p.m. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.
In addition to Johnson, the speakers and the times of their addresses are as follows:
Thursday, May 12 at 6 p.m.
Cruz is a first-generation college student. Her mother is from Mexico, and her father hails from El Salvador. She knew that attending a community college would allow her to save money. During her time at El Centro Campus, Cruz became a leader. She was involved with Texas Junior College Student Government Association as well as the SGA chapter at her school. She is also involved with Phi Theta Kappa and LULAC. “Our dreams and accomplishments are greater than our fears. Nothing is ever too late; it is simply the beginning of a new journey,” Cruz said. She will be transferring to the University of Texas at Dallas where she will be on the pre-med track.
Friday, May 13 at 1 p.m. — Kayla Mok and Jose Daniel Juarez Pereira
Juarez is originally from Guatemala. He dreamed of coming to the U.S. when he visited here with his mom when he was only 6. Dallas College, he said, has allowed him to fulfill his dream of attending school here. Deeply involved in campus activities at Richland, he is president of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and led them to a partnership with other nonprofits. As a result, the Richland Campus was honored as one of the best PTK chapters of the year. He also leads the Student Government Association at Richland. A business major, he will be transferring to Southern Methodist University. A TEDx speaker at Dallas College, Juarez loves sharing his journey of overcoming adversity to pursue his dream of establishing his own businesses and investing in other companies.
Mok transferred to Dallas College last fall. An international student from Singapore, her brother is a Dallas College alumnus. Mok attended Richland College where she was active with Phi Theta Kappa and is a member of the Pacific Islander Event Committee. Mok is also a member of the Dallas College STEM League. She is graduating with an associate degree in STEM and plans to transfer to the pharmacy program at Texas A&M. With challenges to a work/life balance, Dallas College, she said, allowed her to discover what she wanted to pursue. She volunteered at a vaccination site and found a passion for pharmacy. She has learned that failure is not fatal. It’s okay to struggle, but get up and work harder every day, she said. Her parents are flying to the United States for the first time and will witness her graduation. She thanks the international advisors at Dallas College for their patience and commends them for helping her settle in.
Friday, May 13 at 6 p.m. — Edward Sesay
Sesay was born in Gambia and moved here with his mom when he was only 9. A graduate of Hillcrest High School, he could not afford tuition at a four-year college, so he enrolled at Richland Campus. Dallas College, he said, has helped him develop leadership skills. He participates in Student Government Association and FOCUS and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, where he gained confidence as a speaker. He is also part of the Dallas College Male Achievement program, where he interacts with mentors who coach him on how to be successful in life. He is a political science major and wants to help communities. His immediate goal is to transfer to either the University of Texas at Dallas or the University of North Texas. Dallas College provided tutoring and other resources to help him with classes. He traces his academic and social achievements to his teachers at Dallas College who were always there for him, he said. Challenges and distractions are ever present, but it’s important to focus on your goals, he said. In addition to college, he works at McDonald’s. “For me, it’s a great honor to speak to my fellow graduates about diversity, overcoming challenges and breaking down walls,” he said.
Saturday, May 14 at 10 a.m. — Brandy Merrell
Merrell has a lot to prove — to herself and her two children, ages 12 and 8. A nontraditional student, she is 42 and wants her daughters to learn that it’s never too late to launch your dreams. Married for 22 years, she always wanted to finish college — something she started years ago, but she needed to get out of debt. She enrolled at Dallas College and is working full time to care for a medically challenged child who recently had her vertebrae removed. Her husband, a former Marine who works for Microsoft, launched his career during a time when IT degrees were not important. Merrell wants to prove that anything is possible, and all challenges can be overcome — with a little hard work. Merrell is a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. She is currently enrolled at North Lake Campus. She is president of the Alpha Zeta Eta chapter of Phi Theta Kappa. Merrell was also the treasurer for the Student Government Association. A biomedical engineering major, she hopes to complete advanced degrees and make a difference.
Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m. — Amber Johnson and John Gonzalez
Gonzalez was born into a silent world. Navigating the hearing world led to a host of problems — some academic and others financial. Born in Dallas, his family is also deaf, making his journey more challenging than most. In 2020, he enrolled in Dallas College. A mentor from the Accessibility Office took note of his struggle and helped him find online classes that offered captions. A first-generation college student, Gonzalez is grateful for the resources provided him. He wants to pursue a degree in computer science. TRIO Support Services — an academic support group that helps students succeed — assisted him with a college tour. His message: He is a deaf student whose parents never went to college. But there are resources and helpers who ask about your dreams and will not stop until you get there. He learned to sidestep the labels, accept his identity and soar. “As a first-generation, deaf college student, to be a speaker is absolutely important to me because I want to encourage students to never stop learning. It is okay to embrace failures as failures do not define themselves. As long as you keep faith in your heart, nothing is impossible,” he said. Gonzalez attended North Lake Campus and hopes to enroll in the computer science program at the University of Texas at Dallas.
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